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The NBA is getting serious about its crackdown on tanking.
Earlier this week, the league sent a warning to the Chicago Bulls about resting healthy players after head coach Fred Hoiberg sat center Robin Lopez for the last six games and swingman Justin Holiday for five of the past six.
Chicago is now planning to play the veterans “more extensively to close the season,” per Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania, who first reported the news.
Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson issued the following statement on the club’s communication with the NBA, via Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago:
“After the All-Star Break we had communication with the league office about Robin and Justin’s roles — after healthy dialogue the league determined that their situations fall into the ‘player rest’ policy. We respect the communication and cooperative dialogue with the league and will adhere to their recommendations going forward.”
The Bulls have not explicitly stated an intention to tank. Instead, the organization made it clear after the All-Star break that Hoiberg would be instructed to prioritize minutes for younger contributors over established veterans.
“You can’t play 12 guys in our game,” Paxson told reporters on Feb. 20, according to WGN’s Rick Tarsitano. “Nine or 10 is the most, so we’re going to start looking at blocks of games where we’ll be having a few guys that haven’t been playing much or at all, where they’ll have a significant role for us.
“…It’s just the position we’re in as a young basketball team—20-37—with a lot of young guys on this roster, several we haven’t had a chance to see play much this year. For us to make the proper evaluation, in terms of who fits us going forward, this is something we have to do.”
One day later, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to all 30 teams which made it clear the league would not stand for blatant tanking after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for publicly admitting it was in his club’s best interest to lose games late in the season, per USA Today‘s Sam Amick:
“Throughout this period, we have been careful to distinguish between efforts teams may make to rebuild their rosters, including through personnel changes over the course of several seasons, and circumstances in which players or coaches on the floor take steps to lose games.
“The former can be a legitimate strategy to construct a successful team within the confines of league rules; the latter—which we have not found and hope never to see in the NBA—has no place in our game. If we ever received evidence that players or coaches were attempting to lose or otherwise taking steps to cause any game to result otherwise than on its competitive merits, that conduct would be met with the swiftest and harshest response possible from the league office.”
The Bulls, now 21-42, are 1-5 since the All-Star break and have dropped seven of their last 10 games.
They currently own the NBA’s eighth-worst record. If they hold steady in that position, they will have a 9.9 percent chance of landing a top-three pick in June’s draft.